Flint, MI– The Genesee County Sheriff is reiterating a message to law enforcement about their duty in light of recent mass shootings across the country.
“We do not wait. You hear shots fired, you go no matter what rank you are, no matter how much experience you have, you stop the threat,” Sheriff Chris Swanson said during a press conference on May 27, 2022.
Three days earlier on May 24, an 18-year-old entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and shot and killed 19 students and two teachers.
The timeline of what happened continues to develop, with news reports stating that the gunman was in the school for about an hour before he was shot and killed.
According to an AP News report from May 27, there were “nearly 20 officers” in a school hallway for more than 45 minutes before U.S. Border Patrol agents used a master key to open the classroom door and confront the gunman.
The report states that children had called 911 repeatedly asking for help. A video from the scene shows parents outside of the school begging the police to go inside.
Swanson said that law enforcement needs to be trained to act without delay, and without waiting for backup.
“Protocols and policies on paper are great, but it’s a mentality you have to train to go and stop the threat,” Swanson said.
In 2018, a former Florida deputy neglected to respond to a shooting in Parkland, Fla. Since that incident, the deputy is facing multiple charges related to child neglect and culpable negligence after failing to confront the gunman during the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people died.
On May 25, NPR reported that there have been 212 mass shootings, meaning an incident in which four or more people were shot, in the United States so far this year. The shooting in Uvalde was the 27th school shooting in the country this year, according to the report.
At the May 27 press conference, Swanson said that his office has responded to 56 threats of violence in schools in the county since Jan. 1, 2022. He said that officers had even been dispatched during the press conference to respond to another group of threats.
The 56 threats included students saying they were going to shoot another student, students posting pictures of guns on social media saying “don’t come to school tomorrow,” and “kill lists” found written in notebooks.
“This is what’s happening across America today,” Swanson said.
The frequency of these threats ebbs and flows, he said, noting an uptick after the Oxford High School shooting last year in Oxford, Mich.
“We treat them, and they should be treated, just like any other threat that could be fatal,” Swanson said. “There are no days off, there is no time off. You take them serious, and you take them all the way until you feel comfortable.”
The current procedure in Genesee County for responding to a violent threat starts as soon as it’s reported to law enforcement.
Swanson said that once a call comes in, an “overwhelming amount” of police officers and investigators are dispatched to the scene. Those officers are supposed to “isolate the threat immediately,” and take the individual into custody.
From there, officers conduct interviews with friends and family and search their homes and cars.
Swanson said that in one instance with a 6th grader, the family’s legally purchased and owned guns were removed from the home. The child was given mental health treatment and continues to be monitored and on law enforcement’s radar for potential threats.
In light of the shooting in Uvalde, Swanson said people should be asking, “What do we do next? What is the next response?”
“The things I’m talking about, the protocols, that is in police departments across the country, as well it should be,” he said. “But every sheriff and chief, if they’re worth their salt, they’re going to review their policies and figure out how to become better.”
In addition to addressing law enforcement policy, Swanson encouraged parents, students, and teachers to be on the lookout for signs of danger and report suspicious activity to the police.
“This is an ‘us’ issue. …Meaning when you’re taking your kids to school, you as a parent or guardian or brother or sister, are looking in the parking lot for possible threats,” Swanson said. “You’re also watching social media of those that are in the school.”
He spoke about the importance of continuing to send the message that threats have consequences and fall under “domestic terrorism.” He also said it’s important to change the stigma about speaking up and reporting concerns to the police.
“People need to say something because lives depend on it,” Swanson said.
He also talked about the importance of gun safety, with parents keeping their guns safe, and keeping an eye out for red flags within their home and community. But he also talked about the importance of “gun responsibility.”
“I think the message is loud and clear. Those that have weapons should be responsible enough, and have an age where they can control emotions,” Swanson said. “That they don’t have red flags. … That’s where I think the conversation that people who may have at one point been against it, can realize the logic of it. It’s gun responsibility.”